Manchester City systematically dismantled a makeshift Huddersfield Town side shorn of its midfield energy and nous through injury and paternity leave, while barely shifting out of cruise control.
Not a single visiting player emerged from the wreckage with credit, though some had the excuse of being demonstrably unfit to be sharing a Premier League stage with opponents oozing quality, control and class.
David Wagner’s strange but not wholly unexpected approach to two exceptionally tough opening games, which has seen his summer signings almost entirely mothballed, could come back to haunt him if the ultimate objective – taking points from teams providing more realistic competition – stumbles.
Adopting an entirely new defensive plan – weird Jon Stanković playing as a roving additional centre half in front of the back four as protection – along with an inexperienced and fundamentally lightweight midfield against the oil state funded superstars who will surely walk away with the title again was, to say the least, bold.
The line up resembled what you would expect in the second half of a pre season friendly in Austria; two full backs who just about cope with moderate opposition in the top league, a Wagner favourite (Stanković) making his full Premier League debut after a long injury break, two kids with talent and potential but hopelessly out of their depth in this company (Sabiri and Billing) and a second string keeper inexplicably retained after a less than commanding opening day performance.
Both the performance and result were eminently predictable – the eleven sent out to try to thwart an opposition brimming with talent lacked pace, cohesion and strength in vital areas. Unfamiliar with each other in a competitive game and trying to adapt to a new defensive strategy, the hastily assembled team looked perpetually on the edge of collapse and a snarling underdog display which would have at least salvaged a little pride, was entirely absent.
City could have been out of sight in the first few minutes with Aguero, Jesus and Mounié going close – Town’s striker shanked an attempted clearance on to his own bar – as the Silvas, David and Bernardo, tormented Löwe down Town’s left. To his credit, Hamer made an excellent save from Jesus, taking the full impact of the Brazilian’s strike in the unmentionables, and Stanković made a brave block on Aguero’s effort.
On the right, Town appeared to have decided to let Mendy roam at will. Tommy Smith occasionally ran alongside him but the mismatch was tragically comic. Throughout the game, the World Cup winner delivered crosses of variable quality – ranging from hitting the side netting to setting up goals – but the license to do so was handed to him far too easily.
David Silva, on the other side, was virtually unplayable. Poor Chris Löwe was turned inside out and anyone who came to help suffered a similar fate but the Spaniard’s creativity wasn’t capitalised upon as, to their credit, Town players restricted space in the area and blocked effectively.
For the first twenty minutes, the visitors saw little of the ball and invariably gave it back to the home side to maintain their dominant superiority. Aside from one crunching challenge on Silva by Kongolo, tackling was at an extreme premium as both Sabiri and Billing were bypassed with consummate ease.
The Terriers finally had a shot after 25 minutes with their first genuine foray forward – decent work by Mounié set up Stanković to fire high and wide, but it was, at least, something to become marginally excited about in the away end.
They followed it up with another attack, though this carried no threat and had sucked a few too many players forward. Ederson spotted Agüero moving near the halfway line and pinged a quick dead ball in his direction which the Argentine had under control in a flash. Inexplicably, Hamer, who had moved way too far forward in the first place to attempt to cover the threat, refused to retreat back towards his goal and let Schindler deal with the situation. This provided the perfect scenario for one of the world’s most lethal strikers; Schindler’s jockeying became redundant as Agüero had the simple task of lobbing the ball over the ridiculously advanced keeper and the by now covering Billing.
Town’s tentative flirtation with an attack cost them dearly, but Hamer’s mad wandering assured City of their deserved and bafflingly late opener.
5 minutes later, and slightly fortuitously, City doubled their lead when the Mendy menace was, yet again, ignored. Smith half tackled the marauding Frenchman only to see the ball rebound to Jesus. A poorly positioned Hamer couldn’t make up ground to his right and Town were sunk within half an hour.
Hamer’s third and worst aberration came soon after. A relatively soft cross by, you guessed it, Mendy was spilled in the vicinity of Agüero who beat two Town defenders to the ball and slammed home. He was second, possibly third, favourite to reach it first but his sharp instinct and desire brought him reward.
A mauling, which had been on the cards since the team selection, now became a distinct probability and thoughts of both sets of supporters drifted back to November 1987.
Out of the blue, however, and just before half time, Town found themselves up the pitch somehow. A Billing long throw was nodded on by Mounié and swept in by Stanković for the most unlikely of consolation goals masquerading as a springboard for recovery.
A first goal of the season was welcome, but nobody was fooled. To go in with just a two goal deficit defied the reality of a rampant City who could have scored 6 or more and had steamrollered their weakened and confused visitors to the point of submission.
The chasm in quality was frightening. As was the prospect of 45 more minutes with City being able to call upon a bench of seasoned, world class internationals and a wunderkind.
Sabiri, almost entirely anonymous in a bewildered midfield, was replaced by Depoitre at half time as Wagner decided to prolong the failed experiment of two big lads up front, though the Belgian did add more energy to the front line, even if it was all wasted.
The laughable notion that Town’s late first half goal would miraculously spur a revival was buried early in the second half. Billing brought down the irrepressible Agüero 25 yards out and with David Silva over the ball, there was a grim inevitability to its destination. Hamer stood motionless as City’s fourth curled in to the top corner.
The redundant Pritchard, who barely saw the ball in the hour he was on the pitch and whose only notable contribution was to occasionally and ineffectually try to stem the Mendy menace with Smith, was replaced by Diakhaby to no discernible affect.
The substitution had been preceded by more City chances, including a brilliant Agüero strike which slammed off the post and a rather more prosaic slash when he was clean through following a one two with Jesus.
City replaced the sublime Silva to give Mahrez his debut. And in that short sentence, the scale of the task facing everyone, not just an enfeebled Huddersfield Town, in the top division is encapsulated.
Agüero was also to be replaced – by Sané! – but not before he completed a deserved hat trick. By now, the provider should be obvious with the Argentinian meeting a perfect Mendy cross in front of Kongolo and flicking home past the beleaguered Hamer. Agüero’s striking masterclass rivalled Silva’s genius as the stand out performance in a home team studded with contributions to their easy win.
A reasonable Billing effort, blocked by Kompany, was the only interruption of note to City’s procession. One decent save by Hamer from an Agüero snapshot just before his departure, a woeful finish from Jesus when he should have scored and a slight drop in ruthlessness by the hosts saved Town from an even more humiliating score line, before Sané’s burst in to the box resulted in Kongolo inadvertently scoring an own goal off Hamer’s save.
By then, many of the visiting supporters had left (including this one).
The defeat can be rationalised, of course. Even a full strength Town side, without its spine being jellied through absence and injury, would have struggled to contain an imperious City – Mendy, Silva (D) and Agüero in particular – but there was an unpleasant stench to the capitulation which can’t simply be talked away.
Wagner teams have been thrashed by opposition far inferior to the reigning Premier League champions before, however, and he has shown that such results can be consigned to history. Nevertheless, it is not particularly comforting to look at the fixtures over the next few weeks – Cardiff aside, perhaps, unless we succumb to Warnock’s wiles – where points will remain very difficult to collect.
The first half hour of the season excepted, a difficult campaign has begun badly. The Etihad display was devoid of spirit, intelligence and even a sliver of competitiveness, qualities which can and should be displayed even in the face of overwhelming superiority.
History suggests that Wagner can and will meet the challenges ahead and he has earned the right to manage his resources as he sees fit, but this abject defeat must be redressed and quickly.